If you haven’t been keeping up with the news today, you may have missed one of the stories which has been causing a stir. Here’s the ‘in a nutshell’ version – but if you want to know more before reading my argument, the BBC have a very good take on it here.
Doctors at Sheffield University are about to trial a scheme where new mothers in certain parts of Yorkshire will be offered up to £200 in shopping vouchers as an incentive to breastfeed their baby for up to 6 months. The scheme is apparently designed to give mums an incentive to BF their children, in response to the fact that the UK has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in Europe. Whilst between 50-80% of mums breastfeed in the UK as a whole, in some parts of the country it is apparently as low as 25% – so this is supposedly the answer to that.
Now, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you will know that my wife and I had a couple of varying experiences with breastfeeding our children – and I subsequently feel very passionate about the subject (read: “Things I’ve learnt along the way – Midwives“. So it might not surprise you to know that I think this new scheme is a TERRIBLE idea. But rather than just rant at your indiscriminately, I have (with some help from some of my excellent Facebook friends) made a tidy list.
So, without further ado, here are 10 reasons why I think this scheme is terrible.
1. It is ignoring the real benefits
By making the focus of the “pro breast” argument financial, you are completely ignoring all the other well-proven and widely accepted benefits of breast feeding. Shouldn’t the apparent benefit to yours and your child’s health be enough?
2. It hides the real ‘cost’ of formula feeding
If you believe that money is so appealing to a new mum that she would be swayed by a £200 voucher, you’ve clearly never fed a child on formula milk. Over the period that we fed Robert on formula milk (and before you judge us, read this: Feeding time at the zoo) we EASILY spent more than £200 on formula. Breast feeding IS the cheapest option.
3. Creating a false reason to have a child
By giving mums a financial incentive to breast feed, you’re adding yet another financial incentive for people to have more children. It may sound silly, but if you’re looking at a family who keep having children because our benefit system makes it viable, adding an extra reason may well persuade some of them to churn out a few more sprogs.
4. Prejudice against certain mums
What about the mothers who CAN’T breast feed? As much as the “breast is best” busy-bodies would like you to think anybody who doesn’t breast feed is being lazy and selfish, there are lots of reasons, both medical and otherwise, why a mother might not be able to breast feed. Are we going to penalise them now too?
5. It could add failure to the pile of worries
How about the mums who make every effort going to breast feed, but for reasons out of their control their milk dries up after 6 weeks? Not only do they have the stress and anguish of not being able to do something that every doctor is telling them will make their child happy and healthier, they now have yet another reason to stress-out?
Let’s not forget the other people who can’t breast feed either. Women who have had mastectomies? People who have adopted their child, or perhaps fostered? Now we’re making them miss out, despite the heroic efforts they are putting in with their children. Nice – real classy.
7. How can you prove it?
How exactly are the midwives and health visitors who visit mums going to prove whether or not breast feeding is occurring? The woman I saw being interviewed about this in the news today claimed midwives “would just know”. Well that’s reassuring isn’t it? As far as I can see, they’re going to have to go one of two ways: Either err on the side of trust, and make the system easy to cheat. Or risk calling a lot of genuine and honest mothers liars because they don’t pass a certain strict test which the midwives are made to use. Neither of those sounds very appealing to me!
8. Money for nothing
Presumably, to be a fair and just system, this needs to be offered to all mothers – not just the ones who were “unlikely” to breast feed (after all, how could you possibly police THAT?!) So if we assume this trial DOES get rolled out nationally – where, according to 2010 figures, 50-80% of babies are breast fed – you’re going to waste a LOT of money paying people to do something that they would have done anyway…
9. Where does it end?
If this ‘works’, where do we stop? Should we pay overweight people to diet maybe? That would save the NHS money (one of the reasons being touted for paying mothers to breast feed) for sure. How about paying them to stop smoking? Or paying people to not have accidents – a “no claims bonus” for the NHS if you will? No? That sounds stupid doesn’t it.
10. What else?
Whilst I had PLENTY of great suggestions from my friends and family, I’m sure there are plenty of other issues to the debate. What have I missed out? Maybe you agree with the idea and think the benefits outweigh all these arguments? Let me know in the comments, please!
5 thoughts on “Fatherhood²: 10 reasons why paying mums to breast feed is a horrible idea”
Maybe if the government stopped giving out milk tokens to people in deprived areas breast feeding rates would go up?
I agree completely, particularly for reasons 1 & 4. Moms should be breastfeeding because it’s beneficial for their kids. Period. The economic benefits, etc., are all just gravy, and putting more focus on them works against the educational message.
I also have one good friend that would have loved to breast feed, but had major complications with the delivery and ended up on medication that was incompatible with breast feeding. The complications were significant enough that the medication is expected to continue for about a year, effectively destroying any chance of breastfeeding. She was devastated, and continues to feel bad about her inability to breastfeed; she does not need more social pressure telling her how badly she’s failed her child.
The real solution, IMO, is education–as it is for most problems. Push as hard as you need to to make women understand that breastfeeding should always be the first choice, and it’s the best choice for them and their baby. Don’t throw money it; money doesn’t fix problems–just puts a band-aid on them.
Instead of the cash why not give new mums £200 worth of their midwife’s time – I reckon that’s a good few hours – so that they can actually get some quality support? My midwife, while lovely, was always rushed and didn’t have the time to coach me in breastfeeding although I wanted to. The combination of having my baba 4-weeks prematurely by emergency caesarean meant things didn’t happen naturally and I feel they gave up on it because it was just easier to bottle feed. (Spent a fortune on SMA but he’s absolutely healthy so I can’t say he suffered because of the dreaded bottle).
aghh!!! the breast feeding issue infuriates me, why can’t they leave new mums alone, it is a stressful, exhausting and difficult enough time without the government backing up the breast is best lot.and making new mums feel even more inadequate.
my other irritation with this is once again, childless people are being treated as inferior, where is their £200 bonus for not having a child, thus not using up NHS time?
(please note, i am in no way putting down anyone’s choice to have a child, I am acknowledging how blessed and lucky they are to have one)
Wow, seriously? Money is not the right incentive for this. Period. And shopping vouchers? Really? The only way money is going to make a difference, is if it is invested in the support / health care system. Give doctors and midwives the training and time to help convince/educate more people to breast feed, if it is that important to you as a government. That would help in the long run. At one point this project is over, and only the mothers who happened to have their baby in the period that this project ran, will be made to change their mind. There’s no lasting influence on society for when this test/project is over. If you invest in the system, your result is likely to be more sustainable.
Anyway. Great post. Interesting subject, and wonderful arguments, Henry.